Creating opportunity where it's needed most.

What Works in the Mid South: Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance

August 16th, 2016

The Mid South faces a myriad of challenges, including the highest concentration of persistent poverty counties in the nation. These counties face a tremendous uphill climb in areas such as health outcomes, educational attainment, access to quality, affordable financial tools and services, employment, and homeownership. In the face of these challenges, organizations across the Mid South are working to make a difference.

Each month Hope Policy Institute will feature an organization working to catalyze community change, promote social justice, and/or implement programs that provide Mid South residents with an opportunity to improve their lives and build a positive future.

This month, we feature the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance that works to build reliable, sustainable sources of nutritious food for the hungry in Arkansas. We interviewed the organization’s Executive Director, Kathy Webb.

  1. Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance-03Describe a program by Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance that makes a difference in the community you serve.

The Arkansas Gleaning Project is based on the age-old practice of hand-gathering produce that is left in the fields to feed the poor. The program began in 2008 with just a few hundred pounds of food gleaned. This year we are over 1.5 million pounds and the season isn’t yet over. The total gleaned since the program began is more than 8 million pounds. The fresh produce goes to our Feeding America food bank members as well as pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters across the state. This very popular program is also very cost effective. The average cost per pound is less than 3 cents.

Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance-02Photo: Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance Gleaning Project

  1. What were some of the needs your organization identified that led you to this work?

Arkansas ranks consistently among the very highest in the nation in terms of household, child, and senior food insecurity. More than 70% of Arkansas children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. Arkansas ranks #1 in senior hunger and has for the last 4 years. Clearly, the need is here. The Alliance was formed to help provide a focused, statewide approach to dealing with hunger. Ours is a multi-front strategy to increase access to nutritious food by:

  • connecting at-risk people with resources that already exist (such as the USDA child nutrition programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP),
  • advocating for low food prices and better food policy,
  • maintaining strong emergency food assistance programs, and;
  • empowering families with the skills to manage their food budgets.
  1. What are some of the challenges your organization continues to face? Be as specific as possible.

New legislation is needed which will strengthen the USDA child nutrition programs rather than cut them.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been shown to be a highly effective government program in lifting people out of poverty, yet there are significant factions that would continue to reduce the monthly benefits and eligibility criterion of this critical safety net program.

As the availability of food coming into the charitable food network continues to decrease, it is a serious challenge to find new sources of shelf-stable food as well as meat protein and fresh produce for food banks, pantries, and other hunger agencies.

  1. What are some of the outcomes of the program you described? 

Our programs are very diverse, addressing household and child hunger.

BREAKFAST: We provide schools with necessary technical expertise, working with them on ways to increase the number of kids in need who are getting a nutritious school breakfast and maximize program efficiency. We also provide grants to schools to help offset startup costs associated with implementing Breakfast After the Bell programs.

  • As of January 2016, more than 450 Arkansas schools are now making breakfast part of the school day and seeing improved attendance as well as other beneficial consequences.
  • In the 2014/15 school year, Arkansas saw a 2.8 percent increase in the number of students eating a school breakfast.

SUMMER MEALS: The Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign (for which the Alliance is lead partner) works to raise awareness about the danger children face when the school meals they rely on are not there, and we help identify and assist those members in the community who are in unique positions to sponsor free summer meals sites. The campaign also provides grants to summer meals sponsors to help them build the capacity of their programs.

  • In 2015, the work of the Arkansas No Kid Hungry stakeholders resulted in 224 sponsor organizations serving meals at more than 800 sites across the state.
  • More than 2.4 million meals were served to Arkansas kids during the summer of 2015.

AFTERSCHOOL MEALS: It’s a long time between school lunch one day and school breakfast the next. The Afterschool Meals Program helps close the dinner-time gap by offering hungry children an afternoon snack or nutritious dinner along with an educational enrichment program. Through September 2014, 6.4 million meals were served to hungry kids in after school programs all around the state; that represents an increase of 1.3 million meals.

COOKING MATTERS: Since 2012, the Arkansas No Kid Hungry campaign empowered more than 13,600 Arkansas families with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to prepare healthy meals on a budget through six-week Cooking Matters courses and grocery store tours.

  • In 2015, Cooking Matters classes and grocery store tours brought smart shopping and meal preparation skills to more than 5,000 Arkansas families and was endorsed by the Arkansas Governor’s Healthy, Active Arkansas 10-Year Plan to improve the health of every Arkansan.

SNAP OUTREACH: Benefits help seniors, veterans, children, and families who are struggling to afford food. SNAP benefits also provide economic stimulus to communities; each dollar is the equivalent in $1.79 in economic input. In 2015, our outreach efforts added more than $8.5 million to local Arkansas economies.

FOOD SOURCING: In 2015, our combined food sourcing efforts put an astonishing 43.5 million pounds of food into our communities. That’s equivalent to 36 million meals.

  1. Share a success story from this program. 

An elderly woman visiting one of our member food pantries was overcome with joy and gratitude when she received a food box that included fresh tomatoes and fresh green beans. She said she had not been able to afford tomatoes or green beans for several years. Thanks to the variety of produce and the generosity of Arkansas growers in letting us glean their fields after the harvest, this woman and her ailing husband were able to enjoy fresh nutritious produce for the first time in many years.

Learn more about Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance by visiting them online. If you want to nominate an organization who serves people and places in the Mid South, email communications@hope-ec.org and use What Works in the Mid South in the subject line.

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